January 12, 2010

Deliberate practice and deep practice

There is a growing interest in the question how individual top performance is achieved. Research shows that the way individuals practice skills and the amount of practice they do largely explains differences between top performers and others. Below, two concepts of effective practice are explained: deliberate practice and deep practice.

Deliberate practice: Anders Ericsson’s body of work has demonstrated through research that building top expertise is more than a matter of raw talent a matter of long and repeated deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is an effortful activity designed to improve individual target performance and it consists of the following four elements: 1) It's designed specifically to improve performance, 2) It is repeated a lot, 3) Feedback on results is continuously available, 4) It's highly demanding mentally, and not necessarily particularly enjoyable because it means you are focusing on improving areas in your performance that are not satisfactory. Thus, it stretches you. If you'll be able to do deliberate practice, you'll benefit by becoming better, especially if you'll be able to keep it up for extremely long periods of time. Top performance in a wide array of fields is always based on an extreme amount of deliberate practice. Researchers estimate that a minimum of 10000 hours is required. Also, to remain at the top, prolonged deliberate practice is required. An interesting thing about deliberate practice is that its effect is cumulative. You can compare it with a road you're traveling on. Any distance you have travelled on that road counts. So, if you have started at an early age, this will lead to an advantage over someone who started later. 


Deep practice: In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle describes a way of effective practice which he calls ‘deep practice’. Deep practice is a way of attentive practicing which closely resembles deliberate practice (which Coyle acknowledges). What happens in the brain while deep practice is done is described in this post: Mastery through Myelin. A first step in deep practice is to look at the task at a whole. One way of doing this is to observe an experienced performer. A second step is to divide it into its smallest possible chunks (components) and practice and memorize these separately. Then, link them together in progressively larger groupings. A third step is to play with time, first slowing the action down and then speeding it up. Slowing down helps you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision. To build and retain skill continued deep practice is required with an optimal time investment of between three and five hours a day. In deep practice you pick a specific target (a part of the task you want to master), then you reach for it, you evaluate the gap between the target and the reach and to start again. Detecting mistakes is essential for making progress. This error-focused element of deep practice makes it a struggle, a process of stretching which is likely to be slightly dissatisfying or frustrating but which leads to growth.

While I am not completely convinced that Coyle’s description of effective practice deserves a separate name (deliberate practice would have done well, I think) his explanation is useful and interesting. His attention for chunking, error-focus, varying speed and repetition are thought provoking.